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16 Jul 2015 14:28
New Horizons revealed that the surface of Pluto has somehow been refreshed, activity that may be tied to an underground ocean, ice volcanoes (AFP, Nasa)
The first close-up views of Pluto show mountains made of ice and a surprisingly young,
crater-free surface, scientists with Nasa’s New Horizons mission
said on Wednesday.
The results are the first since the piano-sized spacecraft
capped a 4.82-billion kilometre, nine-and-a-half-year-long
journey to pass within 12 550km of Pluto on
New Horizons is now heading deeper into the Kuiper Belt, a
region of the solar system beyond Neptune that is filled with
thousands of Pluto-like ice-and-rock worlds believed to be
remnants from the formation of the solar system, some 4.6-billion years ago.
Scientists do not know how Pluto formed such big mountains,
the tallest of which juts almost 3 350m off
the ground, nearly as high as the Canadian Rockies.
Another puzzle is why Pluto has such a young face. The icy
body, which is smaller than Earth’s moon, should be pocked with
impact craters, the result of Kuiper Belt rocks and boulders
raining down over the eons.
Instead, New Horizons revealed that the surface of Pluto has
somehow been refreshed, activity that may be tied to an
underground ocean, ice volcanoes or other geologic phenomenon
that gives off heat.
Scientists believe Pluto’s mountains likely formed within
the last 100-million years, a relative blink compared to the age
of the solar system.
New Horizon’s first close-up, which covered a patch of
ground about 241km near Pluto’s rugged equatorial
region, even has scientists wondering if the icy world is still
“Pluto has so much diversity.
We’re seeing so many different
Another surprise was Pluto’s primary moon, Charon, which was
believed to be geologically dead. Instead, New Horizons found
troughs, cliffs and giant canyons - all evidence of internal
“Charon just blew our socks off,” said Olkin.
So far only a fraction of the thousands of pictures and
science measurements collected by New Horizons during its
traverse through the Pluto system have been relayed. The data
will be transmitted back to Earth over the next 16 months.
“I don’t think any one of us could have imagined that it was
this good of a toy store,” said New Horizons’ lead scientist
Alan Stern. - Reuters
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